"Palin's Speech is Classic Casuistry"

08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To everyone's -- including the Republican Party's -- great surprise, Sarah Palin resigned as the Governor of Alaska during the July 4th weekend.

To no one's great surprise, two of the New York Times' most mordant columnists, Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd, promptly dipped their pens in their customary acid and went after Palin. Both writers deconstructed Palin's words and then commented on them in their usual sardonic style.

For the purpose of our primary focus on how one tells one's story, let's concentrate on the key paragraph of Palin's resignation announcement:

Life is too short to compromise time and resources and though it may be tempting and more comfortable to just kind of keep your head down and plod along and appease those who are demanding, hey, just sit down and shut up. But that's a worthless, easy path out. That's a quitter's way out.

Ms. Collins' reaction: "Basically, the point was that Palin is quitting as governor because she's not a quitter."

Ms. Dowd's reaction was even stronger: "Palin's speech is," she wrote, and then, reaching for an uncommonly appropriate word, called it, "classic casuistry."

To demonstrate just how appropriate, here is the definition: "Specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead."

Palin's crossed signals on quitting prompted even Karl Rove to weigh in. Here is how the former media guru for George W. Bush and now a political analyst for Fox News, put it: "Look, I say this as a fan, and I'm terribly disappointed in this... But how does she answer the question of 'Gee, it was too tough for me to be governor of the state of Alaska, but I'm tough enough to be president of the United States?' That's an awful difficult question to answer."

The point here is that no speaker can afford to stand and deliver a message that is self-contradictory. Many politicians, with their inclination to pander and evade, get away with mixed messages, a lesser form of casuistry, because we have come to tolerate their ambiguity. But even politicians -- and certainly no business person -- can ever get away with the kind of reverse logic that Sarah Palin put forth on the most patriotic day of the year. She deserves the wrath of Collins and Dowd, and the no-confidence vote from Karl Rove.